Top Down Fast Fun
Fiat returned to the United States auto market in 2009 after a 26-year hiatus, introducing American drivers to the new 500, or, as they call it in Italy, the Cinquecento. In subsequent years Fiat released derivatives of the 500 called the Pop, Sport, Lounge 1957 Edition, Cabrio “e” and Abarth. Two other models, the 500L and 500X, are built on a different platform and round out the Fiat 500 line-up. While all the 500 versions are fun to drive, Fiat’s high performance Abarth version – it even wears a Scorpion badge – is no normal small car. With more than 60 years of international racing competition, let’s take a look at this track-ready and track-proven car.
The 2015 Fiat 500c Abarth comes with a twin-intercooler, turbocharged 1.4-liter, inline, MulitiAir, 16-valve four-cylinder engine with sequential multiport electronic fuel injection, producing 157
hp and 183 lb-ft of torque. The front wheels are driven through an Aisin, heavy-duty six-speed automatic transmission with Auto Stick, delivering an EPA rating of 24 city/32 highway/27 combined (the stick delivers 28/34/30 if you follow the shift light). In 346 miles of 70-percent highway /30-percent city driving Clean Fleet Report averaged 26.2 mpg, which means the 10.5 gallon fuel tank would take you about 275 miles before needing a fill-up. Note: The EPA’s gas mileage formula is 45-percent highway /55-percent city. Here in Southern California our 70-percent highway /30-percent city driving pattern is far more real world and is why we report it to you.
Running on unleaded regular (with mid-grade recommended), the 84-cubic-inch high-revving engine was smooth, responsive and quick, taking about seven seconds for 0-to–60, a full three seconds less than the base, non-turbo engine in the 500. But, an automatic in a hot hatch? Why would anyone opt against the five-speed manual and its added control and fuel economy? Let’s see.
Driving Experience: On the Road
Conventional thinking is that to go fast and be sporty, a manual transmission is the way to go. This would be news to Ferrari and Lamborghini as they no longer offer a manual transmission. And if you want performance in a Porsche 911, then go for the PDK automatic rather than the manual. So maybe Fiat is onto something.
Clean Fleet Report’s 500c Abarth (c stands for Cabrio or convertible) with the six-speed automatic transmission weighed in at a comfortable 2,545 lbs. The oft-compared Mini Cooper S, with a turbocharged I-4 and an automatic, weighs in at 2,760 lbs.
In my review of the Fiat 500 Lounge 1957 Edition I felt the handling was very good and only wondered what the suspension upgrades for the Sport and Abarth models would be like. After spending a couple weeks in the Abarth, I found the handling is tighter, but not radically more nimble. In certain cornering situations the Abarth suspension was too stiff, which under heavy cornering acceleration caused the wheels to chatter. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Fiat 500 Abarth went exactly where you wanted it to go with the electric power steering being very subtle in its assist. The Abarth’s front MacPherson suspension was track-bred with coil springs and KONI frequency-selective damping twin-tube struts, with a stabilizer bar and performance-tuned shocks, and springs and a solid stabilizer bar in the rear. Add in the Pirelli Cinturato P7 all-season performance 195/45R16 tires, mounted on 16-inch painted aluminum wheels, and you have one fun, tight little car.
The turbocharged engine mated with the Auto Stick automatic provided all the power necessary to have spirited fun. If Fiat added-in paddle shifters this package, along with the tuned suspension, could mimic a manual transmission and make this car even more enjoyable to drive. Fiat was wise to not over-power the Abarth, as a concern with front wheel drive cars is torque steer. I never felt anywhere close to losing control when putting down the power. This is a comforting thing because not being able to steer a car due to too much power at the drive wheels is someplace I have been and don’t want to go again.
With all these spirited driving attributes I found one glaring irritation—the exhaust note. At low speeds, as in pulling out of my driveway at six in the morning, it made a terrible racket that
announced loud and clear to my sleeping neighbors that I was departing. At freeway speeds there is an annoying drone that even cranking up the stereo could not overcome. However, the tuned exhaust sounded great when going down through the gears. Then a true sports car feel takes over, especially in Sport mode, while manually shifting using the Auto Stick; you can produce nice rumble, popping and burbling sounds. Now we’re talking FUN!
Stopping was by semi-metallic, vented, single-piston front disc brakes with single-piston solid rear rotor disc brakes (with red calipers) that delivered steady pressure with four-wheel Brake Assist and the Anti-lock Brake System (ABS). Handling was enhanced with All-speed Traction Control (TCS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Electronic Stability Control (ESC).
Driving Experience: Exterior
If the Fiat 500 line-up is all about Italian Retro design, then the 500 Abarth takes it a step further, what Fiat calls “aggressive styling giving it an athletic profile.” Clean Fleet Report was driving the Abarth painted white (Bianco) with red bodyside stripes, horizontal on the driver and passenger doors, and aluminum spoked wheels with black painted inserts. For fun, the calipers are painted in red (Rosso) lacquer making them pop against the black wheels and match the bodyside stripe and red capped outside mirrors.
Up front, to differentiate the Abarth from its siblings, there is a large air intake slot just above the lower, slotted twin-intercooler intakes on the fascia. The large, round,
Bi-Halogen projector headlights sit above the round Halogen fog lamps. The 500 Abarth has an upright design, with a raked front windshield and sides that slope
inward towards the roof. The roof features a power, folding gray cloth sliding panel that has three stop positions. This leads to a fixed rear glass on the hatch, which has a sharp angle sloping forward. Chrome pieces are at a minimum and used properly as accents.
This all adds up to a unique looking sporty car that also comes in exterior colors of gray (Grigio), red (Rosso) and black (Nero.) A different design from anything else you will see on the road, it is pure Italian all the way.
Driving Experience: Interior
The first thing you notice when getting into a Fiat 500 is how small it seems, and it is, make no mistake. But the smallness does not translate into being cramped because at 5’ 9” I fit just fine, as did my friend at 6’, including ample headspace. The Abarth gets a sportier interior than the other models, starting
with high-back performance, heated cloth seats with large thigh bolsters. Our seats were black with red contrasting stitching, a color scheme carried through to the leather wrapped steering wheel and dashboard. It all worked nicely and was just subtle enough to not scream high-performance. Adding to the sporty look was the leather-wrapped shift knob and aluminum foot pedals. The tilt steering wheel column along with the manually adjustable seats made finding a comfortable seating position easy. But, and I hate it when there is a but, the tight fit between the doors and seat edges mean you should not even attempt to find anything you dropped until getting out of the car. Also, the contortionist moves needed to reach the shoulder belts once seated upfront are the result of the smallness of the interior. Fiat says the 500 Abarth seats four, and technically it does. The best bet, though, is to lay the 50/50 split rear seats flat and enjoy zipping around with enough luggage space for two to have a great weekend trip driving twisties in your local mountains or forests.
Since we were driving the 500c Abarth, it means we had a power-operated cloth top that can be opened to any of three positions at speeds of up-to 60 mph. Not a
true convertible, the Abarth Cabrio’s folding top retracts at its fullest position to just before the rear fixed window. You get all the open air driving enjoyment without losing the rigidity of a sports coupe.
The 500c Abarth dash is clean and basic with everything well within reach and eyesight of the driver, including a turbo boost gauge. But, and there is that dastardly but again, the TomTom navigation screen appears to be an afterthought, as it is inserted right at eye level mid-dash and is a distraction when driving. This device also acts to sync Bluetooth through the BLUE&ME system for mobile phone hands-free, voice-activated communication, so it is necessary to install it into the dash when starting the car. But then—thankfully—once synced, you can remove the TomTom device, put it in the glovebox, and the Bluetooth continues to work. Of course this means you no longer have navigation, but heck, how can you get upset when getting lost in a fun driving car?
Our 500c Abarth had the six-speaker, high-definition Beats by Dr. Dre audio system that delivered high-quality sound through an eight-inch dual-voice subwoofer (mounted in the trunk) and an eight-channel 368-watt amplifier. It all sounded great playing the AM/FM/CD/MP3 systems and SiriusXM, which comes with a one-year subscription. All of this can be managed by the controls on the Abarth performance-designed steering wheel, or the Media Hub with USB, AUX and audio input jacks.
Convenience features include power windows with one-touch down, power door locks, automatic temperature control with cabin filtration, floor mats with acoustic foam, remote keyless entry, 12V and USB power outlets, multiple cup holders, rear cargo shelf panel, security alarm and a tire service kit in lieu of a spare tire.
The 2015 Fiat 500c Abarth Cabrio has not been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for Side and Frontal Crash, Rollover and Overall ratings. Safety features include
seven airbags, traction control, ParkSense rear park assist, engine immobilizer, Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), brake assist, Hill Start Assist (HSA) and cruise control. The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) rated the standard 500 as good in all categories (head restraints & seats, roof strength, side and moderate overlap front) but poo in the small overlap front crash test.
Pricing and Warranties
The 2015 Fiat 500 Abarth has a base price of $23,345, with the 500c Abarth Cabrio Clean Fleet Report was driving had a MSRP of $31,795. All prices include the $850 destination charge. Option Packages will add to these prices.
All 2015 Fiat 500 models come with these warranties:
- Basic Limited/Powertrain – Four-year/50,000-mile
- Brakes, Wiper Blades, Clutch, Windshield & Rear Window, Wheel Alignment & Balancing – One-year/12,000-mile
- Corrosion – Three-year/Unlimited miles
- Roadside Assistance – Four-year/Unlimited-miles
Observations: 2015 Fiat 500c Abarth Cabrio
A cool-looking Italian car with a turbocharged engine that looks like nothing else on the road makes for fun times behind the wheel. So what’s not to like about this slick small car?
Interior size is a consideration if you are inviting more than one other person to go on a trip longer than a few miles. The exhaust decibel level could be an issue for you as it was for me. This, of course, is a personal preference.
If you like driving corners aggressively and it is important that no one else is driving the same car as you when showing up at a party, then the Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio could be right for you.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving! Ciao!
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle, which does not address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology, during which we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements. Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class or are among the top mpg vehicles on the market. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at firstname.lastname@example.org.